Rough Magic Theatre Returns to Buxton Puppet Festival!

You may remember last year I did I shoe-box toy theatre workshop at Buxton Puppet Festival 2011, (click HERE to see last year’s post).  After doing the workshop in the morning, I had a great time watching Sim-Sim puppets free street performance and pottering round the Pavilion Gardens in the sunshine.

Well it did not seem likely that there would be a single moment spare for pottering, rest and relaxation this year as we had been booked to do 2 performances of our “Alice in Wonderland” show in the afternoon and a shadow puppet workshop in the morning.  Luckily my new van has a tiny bit more space than the old one, which was crammed to bursting when we loaded it with our “Alice” show.

Previously when we had done Buxton Puppet Festival it had been a Sunday and I arrived in plenty of time for the workshop.  This year we were there on a Tuesday and as a result the half an hour extra time I allowed in order for us to arrive at 9.00am, (an hour early for the workshop) turned out not to be enough as we got severely delayed by traffic.  Despite this we arrived in time for the start of the workshop, but with no time to prepare in advance.  The large number of helpers meant that the workshop materials were soon unloaded and I simply organised the workshop slightly differently, so that people were not left hanging around while I set up.

The children and their accompanying adults were soon happily working away and everyone had time to make one or in some cases two puppets and were able to try out their puppets on the Sari shadow screen we brought for the occasion.

Because I thought we would have a range of ages and abilities I had more than one technique for making the puppets.  I was conscious that smaller children do not have the same ability to cut out complicated silhouettes, so I did some example butterfly and dragonfly puppets using strips of thin corrugated cardboard to form simple shapes like circles and tear-drops and they could then have the fun of attaching bubble wrap or doilies to create interesting textures.

Everyone, (including the adults) seemed to have a great time and be very proud of what they’d made and went away with the knowledge and skills to make more puppets and make their own shadow theatre at home (all you need is a puppet, a light source and a screen of some kind to project onto).  We also went through some of the basic manipulation skills and techniques.

The time disappeared remarkably quickly and then we had the mad dash to pack up, drive across the road to the Pavilion Arts Centre, unload the props etc. for “Alice”, then back across the road to park.  After that we set up the show, went backstage to change and were back up to perform without a single spare moment.

It turned out that James Morgan was the techy assigned to us and was an old school friend of my fellow performer Tim Austin from Norfolk.  He was extremely helpful and efficient, even producing a big piece of wood, a saw and some other tools to fix our wooden expanding maiden.  It is what we use to hang various costumes and other paraphenalia during the performance and it had cracked through on one of the joints.  If James hadn’t swiftly and effeicently done an excellent temporary repair job it could have proved very awkward indeed during the performances.

We had two audiences of around 30 people in the end, which considering the beautiful sunshine outside was quite a lot.  The weather has a huge impact on audience numbers, in my experience, and in sunny weather you can have quite poor attendance as everyone decides to enjoy themselves in the sun for free rather than go indoors and spend money on puppet theatre (however excellent).  Street theatre of course is virtually the opposite.

The first audience were quietly appreciative.  I was close enough to see their smiles and laughs but Tim would have preferred a louder audience who needed a little less encouragement for the audience participation.  The second audience gave him what he wanted, though I don’t know how much that was down to the people and how much down to us ramping up our performance to try and get a bigger response.

In any case, in my opinion both audiences had a really great time.  I think perhaps the first audience were totally absorbed, as when we came to the end they seemed to need a few moments to come back to reality and leave the theatre.  I think, because we know it so well and have performed the show so often, we can forget what a big effect all the surprises and tricks in the show can have on people.  Normally, I do like to have a chat with the audience after and let them have photos if they wish, but there was no time for that on this occasion.

As soon as the second show finished at about 4.10pm we had to get our things out by 5pm so the people doing the evening show could get in.

Even taking into account the fact that we had extra hands to carry things out to the van for us, I think we did the fastest striking of the set that we had ever done, (about 45min).  It is no simple thing, as we have to dismantle and pack things away carefully so they are not damaged and then take everything out to the van in the right order and position everything in exactly the same way each time so that everything will fit.

It turned out that the show after mine was Rouge 28’s “Urashima Taro” that we had been so impressed with at Skipton Puppet Festival.  Since then, I had been in touch with Aya, the performer by email and on Facebook and had planned to meet her and see her in “The Twittering Machine” at the Boo at Christmas.  Disappointingly we did not make it, as I did not fancy risking the black ice that there were severe weather warnings about at the time.

So I was delighted to get a chance to meet Aya in the flesh, (however briefly) when they arrived to set up their show.

As we had not stopped since the moment we set off in the morning for the supposedly 2hr 10min drive, we went back to the dressing room for a cup of tea after the van was loaded up and parked again.  Amazingly enough, after that there was some time to show the lovely Pavilion Gardens that I had enjoyed so much on my last visit to Tim.

It was a lovely end to a tiring but enjoyable day to sit and eat our sandwiches in the sunshine.

On the way back, as we were passing and needed to eat, we actually popped into the Trafford Centre for the evening meal, which was particularly nice as Tim had never been before and had yummy curry and a drink for a surprisingly reasonable price.

Now in the previous Buxton post, I had great difficulty getting the blog to display two separate lots of photographs – one of the Toy theatres the kids made and another of the views around Buxton and I discovered after that the pictures of Buxton had disappeared from the post.  So I have displayed pictures from Buxton, both last year and this year and some from the Shadow puppet workshop with captions to show which is which.  I hope you enjoy them.  If anyone has any experiences from Buxton Puppet Festival they would like to share, please leave a message in the comment box at the bottom of the post 🙂

Not long till the Masquepony Festival in Cartmel, where I’ll be performing “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” on August the 18th.  See the “Where You Can See Me” page for more details.  I understand that the majority of the entertainment is free or “pay what you like” so why not come along and bring a picnic for the banquet in the evening.


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